Purposeful Posters

Recently I’ve been on a total poster making run in my reading room.

Before I get to that though, some back and fill: As a SRBI paraeducator for math and reading I actually have two rooms. One is more of an office and I share it with the math coordinator for the school as well as another math para. We service the math SRBI students here and there are also fou
r computers and manipulatives available for student use.

I also have a full size classroom (which I admit forthrightly I am VERY lucky to have!). I use this space to work with my small reading groups. I love having a separate classroom because I can decorate it however I want (and bring in all the books that were formally stored around my house!). One thing I am muddling around with is painting it. It’s currently painted blue with some darker blue accents. I admit I love leaving the lights off but Gosh! It can get so dreary! I was thinking painting the walls cream with yellow accents, but I have yet to run this by the custodial staff. Also as I’m writing this I am thinking buying some small lamps and placing them around strategically might be cute (there is a great consignment store in my town where I could get some! Totally going lamp shopping tomorrow!).

Whoa…and this post was supposed to be about posters! Back on track…

So! I have been making posters for my reading room. When I instruct my students I often will write lists on the board to emphasize certain points. It always bugged me because after a while it got REALLY messy looking (especially since I have a chalkboard) and I would erase it all! But then a week later I would be working on the same topic and I would make the list again (topics are often reoccurring because the lessons are very individualized/differentiated and the students don’t all start working with me at the same time/work at the same pace leading to staggering). I noticed three of the lists I wrote the most were Point of View, Writing Persuasively, and Propositions.

After creating these posters, it is SO much easier to just reference the posters during the lesson. I also like the fact that it raises the print in the room. Students refer most often to the Point of View poster. Sometimes I’ll ask them a question about the point of view in a passage and how it effects how the story is told. They’ll sneak a look at the poster with a little smile, thinking that “Ha! I’m using this poster to help me! I’m tricking Ms. K!” Little do they know, that’s exactly why I put it there - mission accomplished!

Now that I have attacked my reading room, I’m itching to attack the math office/room. This is a little more sensitive since I don’t have free rein like I have in my reading room. Also, there are some posters that are already up. Some of them I like (a list of “clue” words for each operation) but some of them drive me wild (in a bad way), like the poster which outlines steps in solving word problems, where the first step is on the bottom and the last step is on the top of the poster. The posters were put up because we had them in storage and in theory are applicable to SRBI.

With both examples I just gave, I feel they are not purposeful. Have you ever walked into a classroom and seen it beautifully decorated with posters and you think “Wow I want my room to be beautiful like this.” Then you spend some more time in the room and you notice that the teacher never actually uses the posters? They serve more as a wallpaper to cover the walls and make the room cheerful. And have you ever walked into a room filled with a bunch of sloppy handwritten posters and thought “Wow those are messy”? Then you spend time in the classroom and you find out that the posters are strategic (in placement and existence) and referenced often?

This is what I’m going to call my theory of purposeful posters. When posters are purchased they are bought with the idea that they will be used in the classroom, or perhaps that students will read them when they are bored (i.e. increasing print). Which is fabulous…but, then they get put up and never used.

I admit my room had been described by my students as sparse when they first enter it. And it is pretty free of decorations. One reason is that I only spend about 10 periods a week in there with students. Another is I am positively stymied when it comes to WHAT to put up. I hate putting something up and having it NEVER be used. It just bugs me (although I did cave to putting up an inspirational banner to cover the ugly cork board above my chalkboard). Slowly throughout the year I have added two quote walls, a word wall bulletin board, and an affixes and roots bulletin board. Plus my said posters.

The key word being, slowly. The items have purpose and have been reflected on. The quote walls provide students with quick snapshots into books they might be interested in. The word wall provides the definition of key terms we are working on as well as challenging words we come across in our reading. And the affixes and roots bulletin board list all the affixes and roots (and definition) since the beginning of the school year (the schools reading specialist introduced a school wide affixes and roots program this year where students focus on a different prefix, root, and suffix each week) which students add to when they find or think of a word that has that root. (I actually want to become more strategic in its use, but that’s for another blog entry).

When I created the posters for my reading room, I had a reason, a need for creating them. There was a guarantee that once they were created I would refer to them and students would use them since I had already been doing so, in just a less efficient way. I think when the posters are hand-made they show that the teacher has come to the conclusion that creating the posters in necessary.

Now, I am not saying hand-made posters are better than store bought ones! I just feel that they have a clearer purpose in their existence and placement in the classroom. Besides, since they can tend to be so unsightly if there not being used, we want to take them down! Seriously though, I think a balance can be struck between hand-made and store bought. I feel the key is making sure our posters have purpose when they are put up. We need to ask ‘Are we putting these posters up to add color and variety or are they being put up with a clear purpose in mind?’

Academic Conversations, Part I

This year, our school is running an Academic Conversations Book Club after school. I joined because I wanted to learn more about the topic and felt that I would actually read the book more thoroughly if I joined. We have conversations with our students EVERY single day. And I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’m left shaking my head and wondering What were we just talking about? What was the purpose of that conversation? Or Why didn’t the student understand what I was saying? How could we have had a more effective conversation? I felt that joining the book club would maybe help me with this. And it did. Except when I went to implement the strategies, it just…never happened. At first I was excited to try to implement the strategies with my kiddos. I photocopied the “Placemat” which had the five areas of conversation and figured I would go through each section over the course of the year, building our conversation skills. It never happened. The placemats sit on my horseshoe table buried under a big binder.

What went wrong?

Just looking at the placemat visually right now, it is so much information. This became a case of information overload. I think back to my A Better To Do List entry and my Theory of Small Chunks. This was more of a case of one huge boulder. Even though it was only a small pile of papers on my table it sat there reminding me of what I still had to do four months later and seemed to weigh much more than it did.

Honestly I still don’t know what I’m going to do with them. My first gut reaction is that I need to focus on one area at a time, one strategy in that area at a time. My second reaction is that I should make posters for each section, adding areas as we go. But then I might just love to make posters! Most of my blogs are more definitive: This was my idea and this is what I did. But this one is much more of a work in progress that I will be updating as I go along. Writing about it helped clarify my thinking and given me some direction!

A Better To Do List

In the past two weeks I have been insanely productive. Maybe it has to do with the fact that we had almost two whole weeks off for December vacation. But I think it has more to do with my very detailed to-do lists.

Normally on my to-do lists, I would write down something broad such as “Make propositions poster.” And it would stay there, never to be deleted (I make my to-do lists in a Word document). But after break, I had a bunch of things I hadn’t completed from before break. I decided to break them down into absurdly detailed steps.

For example, Make Propositions poster became:
1. Take poster paper from poster paper drawer.
2. Measure length of poster and divide into 6 sections (heading and each step)
3. Pencil in heading
4. Pencil in each step
5. Find circular object to use for numbering.
6. Choose which color markers to use.
7. Marker in the poster
8. Bring to reading room
9. Hang up poster.

I call it my theory of small chunks. Yes, I just broke one fairly easy thing into 9 steps. But I have to think realistically: Do I have time in my day to sit down and make a poster, bang shazam, done! I don’t.

What I do next is assign when I’ll do each step. Next to step one I’ll write in parentheses (Monday, before school). Next to two (Monday, period 7), Next to three, (Tuesday period 1) and so on until next to step nine it says (Thursday, After school). I can see myself making progress and it’s encouraging. I also have a game plan, so if the poster isn’t done by Monday afternoon, instead of being discouraged, I just think, Yea but I’ll pencil in the heading first period tomorrow.

This theory is very applicable with students, especially the students I work with. They often get overwhelmed by their homework because they have 10 problems to complete! And each problem has 5 steps in it! That’s a lot of work! They’re right. It is a lot of work. But they get overwhelmed because they broadly label it “Complete p. 235 #s 1-10”. Break it down! What steps are easiest? (Labeling paper with name, date, class? Doing numbers 1-3?) When do they have free time? (Write in your agenda next to the assignments when it makes the most sense to work on the problems). Figure out what you really need to do then figure out when you’ll do it. This is especially effective when students have long term projects to complete.

One last thing to make this especially effective is making the list the night before. The night before what I have and have not finished that day is fresh in my head. During that day, I’ll also type in general items that I need to complete the next day. Then at night I go through them (what I haven’t finished and new things that came up to do), prioritize them, and figure out when it is feasible to complete the task. That way when I go into work the next morning (not one hundred percent awake!), I don’t even have to think: It’s all mapped out and I just have to do.

Mathematical Toolbox

I recently completed my master’s research on the use of instructional videos. One of the issues that came up in my results and conclusions was the issue of retention. After teaching my Tier III mathematics students, they took post-tests which they all passed. However when I gave them summative assessment covering all the topics at the end of the study, not all students did well. There was an overall decrease in scores, but for some students it was more dramatic than others.

Two students in particular remembered almost nothing. This was very concerning as they had already spent two months receiving interventions! I thought about it and came to the conclusion that the topics needed to be revisited frequently throughout the year even after the student had finished and become proficient with the topic.

I found in my closet a baby wipes box that had been left behind by another teacher. I wrapped in shiny silver wrapping paper then attached labels: “Mathematical Toolbox”. Inside I put two different types of cards: The yellow orange cards were to be used for skills and the orange cards were to be used for vocabulary.

I began using it with one student, starting from the first topic we ever covered, creating vocabulary and skill cards for mixed numbers and improper fractions. Then we worked on practice problems for turning mixed numbers into improper fractions and vice versa. The first day that is as far as we got. The second day, we reviewed the vocabulary and differentiated between them: How were they similar, How were they different? Then we differentiated between the two skills. The student solved practice problems for each. Then we moved to a new topic, prime factorization as the skill, prime number and composite number as the vocabulary.

The goal wasn’t to master the topic before moving on to the next topic. The goal was to provide the student with review and opportunities to practice over a long period of time. By this time, I have met with this student five times, each time practicing skills already in the box, and adding new skills and vocabulary. The student identifies and differentiates between the vocabulary and skills, and solves problems, faster each time.

My previous method was to provide a pretest, teaching the lesson, provide a post test, then move on and never specifically revisit the topic (a topic that came up naturally was prime factorization with finding the greatest common factors and the least common multiple. This was also the topic that had the highest score on the post-assessment).

The initial process of pre-test, lesson, post-test worked, but in a Tier III intervention setting it is necessary that the topics are revisited, reviewed, and reemphasized. It also comes down to providing the students with repeated and extensive opportunities for independent practice. Students need to have many opportunities over time to practice the skills on their own to have a true long lasting mastery of the content.


Book Quote Wall

This past summer, I was reading (and rereading) a lot of books. Some of them were old favorites (see Skye O’Shea series by Megan Shull), while other books were new favorites, or ones that just had a really good quote. As I was reading, I wrote down the quotes in a notebook and I realized that the all these amazing quotes would make a really fun display. I typed up the quotes, printed them on pink paper and covered a double door closet I have in my classroom with them. As I kept reading into the Fall (and keep finding more amazing quotes), the pink has spread beyond the closet doors and onto the cabinets.
I recently read a slew of running books (as inspiration for persisting with running in these cold, snowy days whose sun sets far too soon!). The number of great running quotes I found led me to make a separate running section headed by a poster taken from Runner’s World. The poster reads “It’s 5:30 am and there’s one place to be: Not in bed.” I love the poster not only for the runner relevance but also for the connection (and perhaps irony) that middle school students often get up by 5:30 in order to be ready to catch their bus.
The books I took quotes from range from picture books to YA literature to adult literature. Some of my favorite quotes out of these quotes include:

“It was tough – the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. But it was the most fun I’ve ever had too. I feel like I’ve never felt before like I’m stronger – like I can fly.” -Megan Shull, Skye’s The Limit (Picking one quote from this book to include in this blog was very hard!)

“As happy as I was to see my parents again, the most prominent emotion I had at that moment was just overwhelming gratitude because he had stood at my side all these months keeping the faith even when he didn’t believe it himself.” -Polly Horvath, Everything On A Waffle

 “Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. For those, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world. This is why we are here.” –Jon J. Muth, The Three Questions

“Who, on their deathbed, ever said they wished they had worked harder? Or spent less time enjoying a quiet afternoon? Or spent less time with their family?” –Nicholas Sparks, The Guardian

“You don’t become a champion by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many days, weeks, months, and (if you could finally accept it) years. The Trial of Miles, Miles of Trials.” –John L. Parker, Jr., Once A Runner

I like to choose quotes for the wall that can be applied to situations beyond those in the book. A lot of the quotes are aimed at encouraging middle school students to keep trying, to be open to new experiences, and of course, to pique their interest in books. It is always fascinating to see what quotes students (and teachers) read aloud from the wall. When students express an interest in one of the quotes, I usually have a copy of that book in my classroom, which allows them to take the book and read it. Something I am interested in trying is having students add their own quotes from their favorite books to the wall as a means of recommending books to fellow students.

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